Nine Cheese Finds in Fishtown
Philadelphia’s most esteemed food reviewer, Craig Laban, wrote about my neighborhood several weeks ago for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Hot on his heels, am I. After all, Fishtown was a dairy desert when I moved here 10 years ago. Now, it’s a cheese (and baguette) lover’s oasis, as long as you know where to look.
Here is my go-to list of dairy ephemera near Frankford and Girard Avenues, from cheese-centric bar specials to hot spots for raw milk and artisan cheese. If you live in Fishtown or are visiting soon, may these tips bring you closer to delicious agriculture in this rough-hewn, trash-strewn thicket of concrete north of Center City.
1. The Cheese Cooler at Greensgrow Farm
This urban farm is one of the reasons I put down roots in Fishtown when I moved to Philadelphia. On weekends, I like to ramble down to Greensgrow‘s bountiful produce stand and sniff out the cheeses in the cooler. Make it a habit and you’re likely to find an ever-changing supply of Firefly Merry-Goat-Round, raw-milk cheeses from Keswick Creamery, cheddar from Goot Essa, stinkers and blues from Birchrun Hills Farm, delicate heart throbs from Doe Run, and French-centric cheeses named after wildflowers from Valley Milkhouse. For a summer cheese board, look in Greensgrow’s cooler for Witchgrass (below), one of my favorite local cheeses.
Greensgrow also stocks jams, pickles, and black garlic (tastes like dried figs) that I love to use for pairings. Ask about their cheese CSA.
2. Bulk Feta and Dates at Jerusalem Corner Store
When I want to buy goat- or sheep-milk feta in bulk, I scamper down to 115 W. Girard Ave. to Jerusalem, a halal corner store crammed full of spices, spreads, and baklava. I’ll grab a bag of fresh pita, some garbanzos, a scoop of marinated olives from the bulk bin, and a few other odds and ends when I need a quick meal. This is also where I stock up on beautiful dates — sometimes fresh (such bliss!), but mostly dried — for stuffing with blue cheese or Parm. My favorite 3-ingredient dish sourced from here? Baked feta with dates and honey. My next-door neighbors make it all the time.
3. Raw Milk, Cheese, and Local Ice Cream at Green Aisle Grocery
Fishtown’s newest addition, Green Aisle, stocks several brands of raw milk, local yogurt, and a selection of local cheeses. On a recent visit, I found blocks of Hillacres Pride (good for sandwiches), along with Roundtop Farm Camembert, cave-aged PA Noble, and Valley Milkhouse Blue Bell. Those last three would make a terrific cheese board — just grab some crackers from the shelves and a jar or two of Green Aisle jam or chutney.
Green Aisle also carries the neighborhood’s best selection of local ice cream, from Capogiro Gelato to Zsa’s to Weckerly’s. Once a week, Andy Satinsky (below) stops in to stock the freezer with Weckerly’s dairy-gasmic ice cream sandwiches. This week, I picked up creme fraiche & carrot.
4. Local Cheese and Cocktails on Tap at The Martha
The Martha is my idea of a ferment nut’s clubhouse. In my fantasy world, I own a motorcycle with cheese-cooler saddle bags, which I park in front of The Martha whenever I meet up with my crew, the Rennet Roughriders. (Our cheese gang does exist, but the wheels are still my fantasy.) At The Martha, I like to order a few local cheeses, a cocktail, and a shot of beet kvass or kombucha. The Martha is all about representing local terroir, from local cheeses to local spirits (Rowhouse, New Liberty, Kinsey) and regional beers. Keep your eye out for Monday evening “maker nights,” a chance to meet local brewers, distillers, cheesemakers, and more.
5. Butter and Cheese at Kensington Quarters
Oasis Cultured Butter (a.ka. OCB)? If you’re not eating it, you’re missing out on incredible local butter. Go get some, and spread a little grass-fed New Jersey candy on everything — toast, steamed carrots, a baked sweet potato. To find the cheese at Kensington Quarters, you’ll need to take your eyes off the butcher counter and look for the tall cooler near the door: see those raw-milk cheeses lurking in the dark? Whatever they are, you want some. The selection changes, but it’s always good (I’ve found Birchrun Hills Red Cat, just sayin’). KQ is also my mortadella source and my bone source, because when doesn’t a cup of bone broth and a cheese board make for beautiful digestion? For happy hour, try a mushroom toast sprinkled with Meadowset Camel’s Back — a local sheep’s milk cheese made by Tom Schaer in Landenberg. The happy hour gimlets are great, too.
6. Drunk & Cheesy at Cedar Point Bar & Kitchen
Yup, that’s the name of this Tuesday night special. Lounge on Cedar Point’s outdoor deck with a pint of good beer or a barrel-aged negroni in hand, and try the grilled cheese of the week. Look for their specials, which sometimes highlight local dairy. I still dream about the goat-cheese-strawberry-shortcake brunch special I ate here two summers ago. It shimmers before my eyes as I write this.
7. Chocolate Cheesecake at Ramona Susan’s Bake Shop
Down the block from my house, there is a new itty bitty bakery called Ramona Susan’s, where sumptuous dairy-laden treats are baked by a pair of young angels. I’ve been known to slink down to this bakery after dark, wearing my slippers, for chocolate cheesecake. It comes in a small tin, just right for two people. Tiramisu in a cup? Real good, too.
8. Local Cheese Pie at Pizzeria Beddia
Dough-head Joe Beddia probably doesn’t want any more press — his tiny corner pizzeria is already overloaded with business and he only makes 40 freakin’ pies a night (for which one must wait in line, cash in hand). BUT, you should know that Beddia uses some great PA cheese, including Hidden Hills Old Gold from Pennsylvania’s Lori Sollenberger — she’s one of my faves. Her aged Gouda is fantastic, perhaps a bit lost when shaved on pizza but wonderful wherever and whenever. I would mug Beddia for some.
9. Scallion Cream Cheese and House-Cured Lox at Philly Style Bagel
I fantasize all the time about someone making “real” Philadelphia cream cheese. Believe me, I am working hard on conjuring this fantasy by sending very focused thoughts to the guys behind the counter at Philly Style Bagels. That said, I have been known to fly out of bed during blizzards for beer-boiled Everything bagels and a tub of fresh-scallion shmear. The house-cured lox here is a recent revelation, thanks to a rec from cheesemaker Jamie Png who moonlights behind the counter as a shmear grrrl when she’s not making buffalo cheese. May I plan your perfect Fishtown excursion? Grab one of these bagel sandwiches and eat it on a bench across the street in Palmer Park. You may see Olive, the pet pig. She has her own Instagram account. For dessert, sip on a good milk stout from nearby Bottle Bar East (in a paper bag, of course).
More Fishtown Cheese/Dairy Favorites…
Great Mac’n Cheese: Memphis Taproom
Great Grilled Cheese: brisket grilled cheese from the Smokin’ Taco Truck
Great Cheese Board: Kraftwork
More Great Pizza: Pizza Brain
Wild Ice Cream: Little Baby’s
Great Cheese Art: Mike Geno’s Studio